The lighthouse spark: a NaNoWriMo prompt

GOOD night! which put the candle out?
A jealous zephyr, not a doubt.
Ah! friend, you little knew
How long at that celestial wick
The angels labored diligent;
Extinguished, now, for you!

It might have been the lighthouse spark
Some sailor, rowing in the dark,
Had importuned to see!
It might have been the waning lamp
That lit the drummer from the camp
To purer reveille!

~Emily Dickinson

Happy National Novel Writing Month! Confession: I haven’t started yet. But. In honor of NaNoWriMo, today’s post is a prompt inspired by this poem for everyone out there NaNo-ing.

What is your character’s “lighthouse spark”? What is their compass, their north star, the thing that orients them? What if you take that thing away?

The stillest night

LET down the bars, O Death!
The tired flocks come in
Whose bleating ceases to repeat,
Whose wandering is done.

Thine is the stillest night,
Thine the securest fold;
Too near thou art for seeking thee,
Too tender to be told.

~Emily Dickinson

One of the things I’ve learned so far over the course of this year is that there are many iterations of Peak Emily. There’s the delighting-in-birds Emily. The angsty unrequited-love Emily. There’s the seemingly less well-known meta-Emily who thinks about the nature of thinking.

But always, always, there is in-love-with-death Emily. “Because I could not stop for death” has got to be the most famous of this iteration, but this poem is definitely in that vein. In this poem, however, death is not lover but shepherd. The Biblical allusion is clear. Dickinson paints a portrait of death that is at once restful and divine–Death here is essentially God himself.

As October poems go, this one is a bit of an odd choice, but it does have to do with death, and there is something admittedly creepy about anyone who seems happy about the idea that death is “too near…for seeking.”

A spider

A spider sewed at night
Without a light
Upon an arc of white.
If ruff it was of dame
Or shroud of gnome,
Himself, himself inform.
Of immortality
His strategy
Was physiognomy.

~Emily Dickinson
Image via Pexels.com

I just want to take a moment to appreciate the quirkiness of this poem. I love the notion that a spider might be weaving a garment of some kind–a ruff for a dame, a shroud for a gnome. I incline to the latter. What kind of dame is going to wear a spiderweb ruff? A gnome, on the other hand–this is totally plausible.

I love these little moments when Dickinson’s sense of whimsy triumphs. It makes me wonder how she experienced the world every day. I had this notion of her, when I was a student, as this incredibly depressed, tortured soul. That’s what we were taught to think. But she also had a fantastically quirky view of the world. She saw magic in the ordinary. I don’t think we can celebrate that too much.